Why Should we Care about the Middle Ages? Putting the Case for the Relevance of Studying Medieval Europe
This introductory chapter puts forward a case for the continuing importance of studying the European Middle Ages. The early twenty-first century is witness to a boom in popular interest in the medieval, one which is playing a significant role in shaping both politics and popular culture. Paradoxically, while this boom has led to increasing study of ‘medievalism’, investment in the disciplines that involve the study of the Middle Ages themselves is in relative decline with questions frequently raised about the value of such research. This chapter begins by examining the challenges that necessitate a defence of research whose key focus is the period between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries. It goes on to consider the nature of the relationship that has developed between Modernity and the Middle Ages and reflects on the changing role that medieval scholars have played in society since History emerged as a professional discipline in the nineteenth century. It poses the important question of what a focus on the medieval might offer contemporary society, arguing that a significant distinction should be drawn between ‘usefulness’ and ‘relevance’. It contends that not only does the medieval remain relevant but that that relevance is to be found in surprising, frequently overlooked, areas that range from advancing modern medical knowledge and assessing the impact of climate change to informing contemporary political and social discourse.